What is going on in the English local authorities?
Hard on the heels of the demise of Worcester?s Swan Theatre last month following a City Council funding cut (apparently it may yet have a re-birth as a non-producing venue under private management later this year) comes the news that Three Rivers District Council is preparing to close the hitherto successful Watersmeet Theatre (p3). Simultaneously, the Association of London Government (ALG) is in the final throes of making savage cuts in funding for London?s arts organisations (p1). Place all of that against Mayor Ken?s recent announcement of a whistles and bells cultural strategy for London and there?s a clear dichotomy. It must have been an interesting time for Croydon Councillor Raj Chandarana, who presumably managed to keep a straight face at the meetings of the Cultural Strategy Group where he helped to draw up the as yet unbudgeted plans, whilst simultaneously chairing ALG?s Grants Committee.
It seems that the predictions of many arts commentators are finally being realised: the substantial recent increases in national funding through central government grants and the Lottery are being met with the inevitable counter reactions of local authorities who calculate that if someone else is coughing up an increased share, then they can relinquish their own commitment. Such decisions taken at a time when the Arts Council of England is still digesting the 10 former regional arts boards, and therefore to a degree internally focussed, smack of convenient opportunism. Hasn?t the time finally come for the Government to make some elements of arts funding a statutory requirement of local authorities? At the very least we should all be encouraging our own local communities to remind the politicians that in a civilised society, arts and cultural provision is at least as important as the many other duties to which they are statutorily bound. And in Ken?s case, maybe we?ve found a useful home for the millions of pounds of net revenue he will start generating next week from the introduction of congestion charges.